Q: I just read your piece in The Post and Courier from June 2014 about noise in restaurants, and how some restaurateurs are trying to cope with the issue. I know that as you mentioned, the noise levels in restaurants overall are high, and most likely getting louder.
I wondered if in your experience, especially as it is almost four years since that story appeared, if you know of a restaurant either on the peninsula or in Mount Pleasant that may be quieter than most?
I am a member of a group of seven women who celebrate birthdays with dinner at area restaurants. We have a birthday of a lady who is turning 60 coming up at the end of this month, and unfortunately she is experiencing difficulty hearing in most restaurants. (It happens!). Especially since this will be her birthday outing, we hope to find a spot that will help her hear us!
A: Happy birthday to your friend! Interestingly, I don’t think Charleston restaurants are getting louder, at least according to my decibel meter, but there’s no longer any such thing as downtime, so the din that once ruled only from 7-9 p.m. now prevails constantly.
Still, there are plenty of restaurateurs who understand it’s inhospitable to drown out conversation, and have taken the appropriate acoustical steps to keep dining room volume down.
It’s probably not coincidental that a number of celebratory restaurants which would qualify as quiet are helmed by soft-spoken chefs. You don’t say if you have any cuisine preferences or budgetary restrictions, but I’m inclined to send your group to Juliet, where the calm atmosphere is as notable as the meatballs. Another option if your friends are pasta-positive is Le Farfalle, which offers an outdoor seating area, so diners don’t have to fight to be heard over piped-in music.
Other downtown restaurants worth considering include The Grocery, Circa 1886 and R Kitchen, where your group would nearly have the run of the property, since there are only 16 available seats. (In other words, reservations are essential.)
Back in Mount Pleasant, The Shellmore also qualifies as an intimate setting, although as with all restaurants, there’s no guarantee that a boisterous party won’t settle into a table near yours. Farther into Mount Pleasant, I’m really fond of Congress, and don’t recall ever having to raise my voice there.
Finally, it’s worth knowing that a decibel reading accompanies every one of my restaurant reviews. The system isn’t fail-safe, since it doesn’t reflect sound levels over time: Sometimes I end up alongside boisterous parties, too.
But if a restaurant ever hits a 90, OSHA's permissible exposure limit for an eight-hour workday, it’s fair to assume that people with hearing difficulties would struggle. If I wanted to make sure everyone at the table could participate in conversation, I’d probably gravitate toward restaurants that didn’t crack 80 on the decibel meter. (Although I bet your friend wouldn’t mind if the noise level goes north of there when you sing “Happy Birthday” to her.)
For reference purposes, here are the decibel readings from roughly the last year of reviews:
Wood & Grain 97
The Granary 90
Grace & Grit 88
Cinco Tex Mex 87
Edmund's Oast Brewing Co. 86
Kwei Fei 83
The Shellmore 83
Pancito & Lefty 83
Sorghum & Salt 82
Mainland Container Co. 81
Basic Kitchen 76
Bar Normandy 71